Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
Almost everyone has, at one time or another, been a target of someone who wanted to commit fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
If you have received emails informing you that you have won millions in a settlement in Nigeria, you have been a target of people hoping to make a quick buck on you.
If you have received a phone call from someone claiming to be a long lost family member who has had an emergency and needs cash fast, but things just don’t add up, you have been the target of thieves.
According to the Oklahoma Bankers Association, October is Cyber Security Awareness Month.
“We still see a lot of people who are saying you’ve won something-an inheritance or a prize,” said Stock Exchange Bank Compliance Officer, Karen Stephenson. “So, they (the victim) think they have an inheritance or they won a prize and sometimes it is hard to convince them that it is a scam.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft has topped its list of consumer complains every year for the last 12 years. Identity theft occurs when a criminal obtains and misuses someone’s personal information without permission, typically for economic gain. For many victims, it can result in drained bank accounts, poor credit and a damaged reputation.
Stephenson said in today’s fast paced world, with so many new electronic ways to send money or purchase items, it is more important than ever to slow down enough to make sure you are not putting yourself at risk.
Stephenson suggests people use a quick mental checklist before hitting that send button or entering into any financial transaction, including something as simple as paying your bills.
1. If you receive e-mails, make sure you know who they are from. Now days, emails can even look like they are coming from your friends or family, but many times the email includes a link. Always contact the person who sent it, if it looks like it came from a friend, before clicking on a link. Otherwise, simply delete the email, she said.
2. Never give your credit card or bank information over the phone or in an e-mail. Your bank will never call you simply to verify account information, she said. “We already have that information so there would be no reason for us to call you for it,” Stephenson said.
3. Always call your bank and report it, if you have received a phone call from someone who says they are calling from the bank and wants your information, Stephenson said. “Especially make sure you call if you have noticed activity on your account that you do not recognize.”
4. Pay attention to what you throw away, Stephenson said. “Your trash is a treasure trove of information about you that could all be used to defraud you,” she said. For instance, items such as address labels for your grandchildren, or a child you are sending a card to, a physician’s appointment card, printed information for a trip you might be planning and even old bills give anyone wishing to steal your identity a clear picture of your life, she said. “I shredder is a necessity.”
5. Keep an up-to-date security system running on your computer. “If you have an XP operating system, it is important to know that Microsoft will no longer be providing updates for that beginning in April of 2014,” Stephenson said.
6. Never pay your bills by putting them in your mail box with the flag up. “If someone gets that, they have everything they need, your account number, your signature, everything,” she said.
7. If you do purchase things on line, Stephenson suggests shoppers use a low limit credit card rather than a bank card. In this way, if someone accesses the card, they do not have open access to your bank account, only a limited ability to charge on the credit card. “It is much easier for the credit card company to close the account and reissue you your card with a new number than it is to close an account that you might have your electric bills, your water bill coming out of and have to change all that too,” she said.
8. Monitor your credit report. Stephenson said anyone can get a truly free credit report once a year by going to Annualcreditreport.com. You will not be able to get a score, but you will see what activity is on your credit report, she said.
According to Stephenson, any solicitation over the phone should be checked out. Even if it is legitimate, take the time to have them mail you documents so that you can make the payment by mail and so you have time to check out the organization.
“This fraud activity goes in spurts,” Stephenson said. “But when they figure out we are watching for one thing, they will change tactics and try another way, so just be aware.”